Monday, November 12, 2007

The new iPhone SDK will be Safari

Apple's recent announcement of a native iPhone SDK seemed a massive U-turn; first Steve Jobs promised pure web development, then he relented. But I suspect their native SDK will in fact be an upgraded version of Safari - web development on steroids!

There are several reasons why web applications failed the iPhone:

  • Connectivity - endless waits for page load over slow and uncertain EDGE networks
  • Presentation - browsers can't handle coverflow, smooth animation or rotations
  • Awkward audio and video - no flash plugins lead to messy javascript solutions
  • Memory access - you can't access the phone memory using javascript
  • Sensor access - you can't control the camera, microphone, touch sensor or proximity sensor using javascript
  • Cultural - people still expect the mobile web to be crap

Within the last month, a series of announcements have led me to believe that Apple will chip away at all of these issues.

Safari have already announced local SQL database support, which is part of the draft HTML 5 spec. Combined with other HTML 5 sections like caching, this would solve the connectivity and memory issues above, allowing offline access via local memory.

David Hyatt, the lead Safari developer, has also hinted (see comments) that perspective transformations (enabling coverflow) will shortly become available in Safari. CSS animations and affine transformations, including rotations, have also been added to the beta version of Safari.

Now, Safari have announced support for HTML 5 media, bringing first-class audio and video to the iPhone's browser.

Putting two and two together

I just can't see why people aren't putting two and two together! The only remaining technical issue with using Safari as a client development platform is access to the iPhone's sensors - so I fully expect Steve Jobs to announce a javascript API in January's Macworld.

It also provides another reason why Apple released Safari for Windows; they're building a browser competitor to Windows, and they need maximum distribution to persuade developers to use the new web SDK.

For Apple it makes good sense to convert the browser into an OS; they sell hardware, and they get to ride the internet wave. Safari as the client development platform is the classic disruptive innovation!

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